Classmate and fellow missionary remembers a friend
Fr. Charles Yost, SCJ, a classmate of Fr. Tom Fix, SCJ, gave the following homily at the Memorial Mass for Fr. Tom at Sacred Heart Monastery on April 26, 2012
2 Corinthians 4:14-5:1
Psalm 27: 1, 4, 7, & 8b &9a, 13-14
The Risen Christ is the hope of all Christians. In a letter (Letter 19), St. Braulio, bishop of Saragossa, Spain, in the early 7th century wrote: “Lazarus (substitute Thomas) our friend is sleeping. In saying this, Christ, who is the hope of all believers, refers to the departed as those who are asleep. By no means does he regard them as dead.
“Paul the apostle does not want us to grieve about those who have fallen asleep, Our faith tells us that all who believe in Christ will never die; indeed faith assures us that Christ is not dead, nor shall we die…
“Let the hope of resurrection encourage us, then, because we shall see again those whom we lose here below. Of course, we must continue to believe firmly in Christ; we must continue to obey his commandments. His power is so great that it is easier for him to raise the dead to life than it is for us to arouse those who are sleeping. As we are saying all these things some unknown feeling causes us to burst into tears; some hidden feeling discourages the mind, which tries to trust and to hope. Such is the sad human condition; without Christ all life is utter emptiness.”
This could be sufficient for a homily, but I continue.
The first words we heard from our Scriptures for today are from St. Paul. He tells us that “the One who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus…” and place us in his presence. We are gathered here this morning to be reminded that God our Father has done this for our brother Thomas — Fr. Thomas Fix, Priest of the Sacred Heart.
Paul continued, writing of the abundance of God’s grace bestowed on so many for his glory, and follows with words of encouragement saying that these graces renew and invigorate us day by day. I believe that Fr. Tom Fix truly experienced the saving graces of God and gave evidence of this by his gentle demeanor and graciousness in all situations. Let me say here that throughout his seminary years and his years of priesthood, Tom experienced the touch of God’s grace, and he, in turn touched God’s graces to others. Practically all of his more than 53 years as a priest he worked with young seminarians and religious in Indonesia and India. I have always said that to know Tom Fix was to love him.
Our gospel proclamation is again a message of hope that takes away anxiety as we heard Jesus tell us that there are many places in his Father’s house, and that he is there to prepare a place for us, if we follow him as “the way, the truth, and the life.”
Mindful of the words of Jesus, Paul and St. Braulio, let’s reflect for a few moments on God’s love of and grace given to Fr. Tom Fix.
I first met Tom on September 4, 1946 – the day of our arrival at Divine Heart Seminary, Donaldson, Indiana. For the next 13 years we were classmates to ordination as Priests of the Sacred Heart in l958. They were years of adventure; we were about a great undertaking. Our class as a whole was close-knit and supportive of one another. Tom and I often spoke during our years of theological studies of what we would like to do after ordination. We had a mission club at the seminary and so “going to The Missions” came up. This was encouraged by our prefect in the high school seminary, Fr. Peter Miller. Tom had said that when his grade school, Holy Redeemer in Milwaukee, was visited by a Priest of the Sacred Heart, Fr. Jim Alexander, he learned that the community had foreign missions. This was during his seventh grade. Tom’s thought at that time was “I learned they had missions — I wanted to join them.” Others among us could tell a similar story.
During years of study, Tom always looked forward to a pastoral ministry — meaning a parish — where he would meet people daily and be able to reach out and touch their lives. Being a very optimistic individual, Tom wanted to pass on his spiritual optimism to others — and we all know that he was very successful in doing this.
Tom and I were privileged to be chosen to go to Indonesia when our Dutch SCJs requested personnel from the American Province. Fr. Peter Miller was provincial superior then, and while he asked for volunteers from the province, he asked Tom and me personally if we wanted to go. We arrived there, in Sumatra, on March 8, 1962, after a ten-day journey that allowed for several days in Hawaii and the Philippines, and a quick overnight stopover in Singapore. Quickly we were made acquainted with the ministry of our priests and religious brothers and sisters in our Sumatran mission.
Our first need, of course, was to learn the language. An interesting story here: we were just a few weeks from Easter, and the Dutch Fathers took no pity on us, telling us that we had to help with hearing confessions. We protested that we did not know much of the language, but that got us nowhere. They told us the words to listen for, and said “just tell the penitent to be sorry and pray the Lord’s Prayer three times, and give absolution.” They did announce to the people that if they came to us for confession they should speak Indonesian. However, though they all spoke Indonesian, the language they used most of the time in their homes and among themselves was their native Javanese (most of our Catholics were migrants from Java). Well, needless to say they all confessed in Javanese, of which we knew nothing. Word got out and we had the longest lines of waiting penitents.
After a few months Tom was assigned to the high school seminary in Palembang, and I to the novitiate house and theological seminary in Gisting to teach. As I mentioned, Tom’s major ministry was to young people in Indonesia, and in latter years in India. He was an excellent formative teacher, and many of our Indonesian confreres who later came to the United States to become proficient in English and for graduate study, unanimously spoke highly of Tom’s teaching and exemplary presence among them.
I believe that Tom had an outstanding confidence and trust in God as loving Father. He was ready always to do what was asked of him, certain that God’s grace was for the asking. This is the spirit of a Priest of the Sacred Heart. This belief is my reason for choosing Psalm 27 as a response to Paul’s message about the abundance of God’s grace. “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” That being the case, “Whom shall I fear?” (v. 1). This disposition he passed on to others. And I dare say that Tom learned this early in life from his parents, Martin and Irene, whom I got to know well.
No pretentiousness about Tom. His deep spirituality, and it was deep as it was simple, won over all who met him. I was told on Sunday, earlier this week, that the young seminarians and priests in Indonesia, for whom Tom was a formative presence, referred to him not by name, but as “Our Saint.” A great deal of truth there! All who knew Tom saw in him an unselfish, enthusiastic, and spiritually committed religious and priest. Religious life, if one allows it, does give a unique perspective to priesthood.
To return to the Scriptures, to Psalm 27 — prayed in the present, it looks to the future. For all for whom God is (was) light and salvation, their dwelling is now “in the house of the Lord… gazing on the loveliness of the Lord” (Cf. v. 4). This is victory over death. This victory represents the “bounty of the Lord.” Psalm 27 expresses a theological vision of reality that belongs to the faithful follower of the Lord Jesus, a reality that belongs to all for whom Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life.” For Fr. Tom Fix this is now an eternal reality.
There are verses from another psalm that first came to mind when preparing this sermon, Psalm 25. These verses speak of Tom’s prayer during his final months of painful illness. I believe, from reports that we received, that Tom suffered in silence, with patient endurance. You know of that, and so let me just quote the verses of the psalm in testimony, testimony to Tom’s prayer:
To you, O Lord, I lift my soul. Relieve the troubles of my heart ;
and bring me out of my distress. Put an end to my affliction and
my suffering and take away all my sins. Rescue me… I take refuge in
you. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, because I wait for
you, O Lord” (Cf. vv. 1, 17,18a,20-21).
For Fr. Tom Fix, our Loving God has answered this prayer.
Allow me a few more moments to read two additional Scripture passages, from a translation by J.B. Phillips. The first is addressed to Tom:
From the Second Letter to the Corinthians: Tom,
He who gives seed to the sower and turns that seed into bread
to eat [has given] you the seed of generosity to sow for the
harvest—the satisfying bread of good deeds done. The more
you were enriched by God, the more scope there [was] for
generous giving. And, your gifts, administered through the
Church [proved] the reality of your faith. And that means that
people will thank God that you [practiced] the Gospel that you
[professed] to believe in, as well as for the actual gifts that you
made of them to others. And yet further, people will pray for
and be influenced by you because you have obviously received a
generous portion of the grace of God. (2 Corinthians 9:10-15).
The second, from the Letter to the Ephesians, a prayer for Tom:
On behalf of all present here I ask the Father to grant you the
riches of his glory… And that Christ now lovingly dwells in your
heart, and that [now eternally] rooted and grounded in love…
you know [the fullness] of the love of Christ which surpasses all
things. (Cf., Ephesians 3:14-19).